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Allium (Waterbury, VT)

For our other dinner out while we were spending an extended weekend in Vermont, we decided to go back to Waterbury and check out some of the locations. Since we moved to NH (more than 16 years ago, how time flies!), Waterbury has definitely grown up from the fairly sleepy town that also sported a coffee roasting factory and an ice cream factory into something a bit more refined. It had one really well-regarded brew pub grow up, get flooded, and moving on to found a full-fledged, world famous brewery (now up in Stowe). It’s also had several restaurants and beer bars appear over the last decade or so. One of the newer arrivals in town is Allium.

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The Bistro at Ten Acres (Stowe, VT)

A few weekends ago we decided to spend a longer weekend in Vermont’s Mad River Valley, take in some of the sights, enjoy a few of the local breweries, and maybe get in some skiing. Well, despite leaving a house with almost two feet of accumulation back in NH, most of Vermont didn’t get the same heavy Nor’easter storms we did, so we mostly found ourselves staring at… dormant grass (and Mad River Glen only had two runs open!). Despite the unseasonable weather, however, the rest of the trip went pretty smoothly, we just spent a bit more time exploring, checking out breweries, and having a few nice dinners. One of our spots was a new one to me: The Bistro at Ten Acres in Stowe.

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Beau (Montpelier, VT)

Montpelier is another one of those towns around here that seems to punch above their weight when it comes to the culinary front. Sporting a good Asian fusion place (Kismet), a Southern cooking place (Downhome), several good Italian places, a taco shop (one of the Mad Taco outposts), two Pho joints, a whole range of other dining options, and even a culinary school, I’m never far from some good eats in Montpelier. But there are always new things showing up, and a bit over a year ago we were taking the back way to Hunger Mountain Co-op via Barre Street when we happened across Beau. Beau had an interesting business model: it was basically a combination of a butcher shop with house-cut meat and house-made charcuterie and a cocktail bar, with custom-crafted cocktail served out of a rolling bar out front. They also do a light menu of charcuterie and soups (and, in nicer weather, set up an outdoor patio and have a food truck or portable pizza oven come by). It was pretty much custom-adapted to my particular tastes… all in a 300 square foot store. Well, a few changes have occurred since they opened. Alas, the cocktail program has ended (realistically, that was a lot to cram into such a small space), but they’ve expanded the meat area and their menu as well, so overall, it’s probably been a bit of an improvement, since I can still get all the same great meats and a better set of dining options (and if I want a cocktail, head to one of several other nice spots around the area).

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The Copperline (Chicopee, MA)

You know, I’ve found Western Massachusetts really has a lot to offer, especially on the food and drink scene. The “Pioneer Valley” between roughly Greenfield on the North and Springfield in the south is a wonderful combination of small college towns, rural villages, and post-industrial mills towns (much like my own Upper Valley of VT/NH). Amongst these towns, a plethora of small breweries, bars, restaurants, and food provisioners have popped up, and there are even a few nice ethnic regions like Chicopee (Polish) and Springfield (German). So I always love heading down there. So, when a recent event had us heading down to Chicopee, it was also a chance to explore more of the town. Sure, being a weekend day, several of my Chicopee favorites like Millie’s Pierogi (handmade pierogi sold out of a building behind a car dealer) and Chicopee Provisions (horseradish kielbasa) were closed, but being around at breakfast time gave me a good chance to check out a place that’s been on my hit list a while: The Copperline.

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Smithsonian Chowder House (Northampton, MA)

We all have them, those little hole-in-the-wall places that we’ve driven or walked by a million times thinking, “I should go in there,” but for some reason we never get around to it? I’ve discovered several great places that way (and a few marginal ones as well, to be honest), but one of our more frequent day trip destinations in Northampton, MA. It’s a nice little college town, with a yarn shop that Carol likes (Webs), a great tea shop, and a lot of little restaurants. Almost every time we go there, we end up parking in the municipal lot next to the bus station, and every time that means we walk by the small and simply decorated Smithsonian Chowder House. There’s also a location in Hatfield that we’ve driven by a few times, but we’re never seeming to do it at lunch time. But a recent trip down to Chicopee (to the most unusual Hu Ke Lau that’s still doing Polynesian dinner shows, and worthy of it’s own review at some point) ended up with us being in Northampton right around lunch, and we finally go to duck in.

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Ambar (Arlington, VA)

One of the nicer things about traveling is that it occasionally offers up an opportunity to try a cuisine that’s mostly unfamiliar to me. A business trip to DARPA headquarters in Arlington, VA gave me an opportunity to meet up with friends and try out some… Balkan cuisine. Clarendon is the third location of Ambar. Along with their other two location (one across the river in DC, the other back in Belgrade, Serbia, talk about an unusual chain distribution!).

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Affäre (Kansas City, MO)

Our last day in Kansas City was a bit of a random meander checking out some of the different sites in the city, like the excellent Jazz Museum and Negro League Baseball Museum, playing some pinball and drinking some brews at Up-Down, and getting some cocktails at TikiCat, a Tiki-themed speakeasy that’s so awesome that I’m considering writing it up despite not having had food there… But after all that, we found ourselves again looking for dinner in the midtown part of Kansas City, and when we saw that one of the options was “German food”, we decided we just had to try out Affäre.

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Q39 (Kansas City, MO)

It’s hard not to notice that over a good fraction of the United States, barbecue is having more than a little bit of a renaissane. To an existing field of old and established barbecue joints (many of which are now working on improving things to stay in the game), there’s been both a notable uptick in new barbecue spots opening in established territory (just see how many new, excellent barbecue places have shown up in and around Austin, TX, for example), and even several barbecue styles like Texas BBQ spreading far, far beyond their traditional boundaries (with respectable Texas-style places showing up as far away as New York City). So it’s interesting to come back to Kansas City, which has long been (along with Texas, Memphis, and the Carolinas) been one of the classic BBQ hubs. Into an already thoroughly saturated market (Kansas City has, easily, over 100 BBQ joints over the metro area, including such classic stalwarts as Jack Stack, L.C.’s, Arthur Bryant’s, or Joe’s), there continue to be new places opening up and trying to add their unique spin on the topic. In this case, I’m talking about Q39.

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Stroud’s Oak Ridge Manor (Kansas City, MO)

Winner, winner, chicken dinner. It’s a classic quote from most any gambling movie (to the point where most gamblers and dealers alike are sick the phrase). It’s also the classic, heck, iconic American dish. But to be honest, it’s actually pretty hard to find a good chicken dinner these days. Over the decades most of the fast-food franchise versions of it have morphed into a poor quality imitation of what they once were (don’t even think of going to KFC for a good chicken, for example, and it’s a shame, since when it is done well it is a true masterpiece of American cooking. Luckily, though, there are still a few existing places that truly know how to do a good fried chicken, and execute it without taking any shortcuts. Of the great places still around for chicken, Willie Mae’s is near the top of the list. Hollyhock Hill in Indianapolis is another. Prince’s for the Nashville “Hot Chicken” variant. And, if you find yourself in the Kansas City area, it’s a shame if you don’t make the time to go get some fried chicken at Stroud’s.

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Cafe Berlin (Columbia, MO)

Despite the many changes in Columbia, most of my favorite spots to visit are still alive and well (Flat Branch for on of my favorite brownie sundaes anywhere and Shakespeare’s Pizza, to name two), some parts of town have seen a lot of nice development. The North Village part of town has seen a lot of recent development, such as the very excellent Logboat Brewing. Indeed, on the way to Logboat, we found a relatively new place in town (from my perspective), Cafe Berlin, and decided on our last morning in town that we’d try them for breakfast.

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